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Dialing Up A Back

comfortably ahead of Denver's Tatum Bell, taken two picks before Julius. The Cowboys were having another hard time deciding between Julius and Bell.) 

So if you think the Dallas defense has been improved by adding Spears, a defensive end who became a starter halfway through his rookie season and is seen as a future anchor of a playoff contender, then you must conclude the Cowboys made the right move in trading that pick to Buffalo two years ago and winding up with Julius. 

Ironically, the current Dallas team's rushing numbers are inferior to the one that led everyone to know they had to draft a back. The '03 yards per carry was 3.9; this year it's 3.6 heading into a game against a team tied for 30th in the 32-team league in defending the run. The Cowboys need 195 yards rushing Sunday night to surpass Hambrick's final Dallas team. 

Which brings you to the question of next year. The Cowboys are a better team than they were two years ago, but may suffer the ignominy of missing the playoffs despite winning 10 games. Clearly they must improve next year. Where? How? And particularly difficult for Parcells (who this column presumes is returning next year) and owner Jerry Jones and scouting boss Jeff Ireland is to know which veteran players are at the end of the string? 

How do you know what you'll get next year out of 30-somethings like Terry Glenn and Drew Bledsoe and Keyshawn Johnson and Marco Rivera and Larry Allen and Jason Ferguson? 

Ireland believes you start by popping in the DVD. "You gotta go with what you see on the tape," he shrugs, "but you also have to know that what you're seeing on the tape is good enough to begin with. With older players, you kind of have to go with history of when that particular position declines on average. Then the salaries come into play." 

So us armchair GMs, we can just sit back Sunday night and watch Julius Jones and Steven Jackson and declare whatever knowledge we think we have. And the people who do it for a living will later pop in that tape and look at those older players, and compare them to the marketplace among free agents and collegians, and decide what they need to do next spring to make next fall better. 

And they'll know to answer if the phone rings.                                     

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